Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Sword and the Sacrifice Philosophy

The Sword and the Sacrifice Philosophy

1. Truth. Truth is that which corresponds to reality. Reality is that which “is”. A belief can only “always” be true, if that to which it corresponds “always” exists (is real) (69).
2. Justification. Any form of inquiry begins with a question, a guess (hypothesis). A justified belief is an answer/theory justified by evidence/reasons.
3. Justification=/=truth. Ought=/=is. (General truth.) A justified belief does not necessarily correspond to reality, is not necessarily true. We are all familiar with having found out that what we
 thought we knew was true, turned out to be false. There are different reactions to this “argument from error”. Some hold firm to a critical realism and say that we just have to be flexible to counter-evidence, and that this argument shows that truth is not dependent on the knower (the knower was wrong, at least initially). Others resort to anti-realism, agreeing with the critical realist that we must remain flexible, but saying that it is absurd and ivory-tower-ish to put truth beyond the knower, for how will we ever know it? (For the how, keep reading.) However, the principal users of this argument defect to skepticism and say that truth (which they agree with the critical realist is not dependent on the knower, otherwise truth is a construct) is impossible to know, though the “argument from error” relies on an essentially critical realist premise: we trust the evidence which leads us to realize we were in error. Nevertheless, justification (evidence/reasons) does not guarantee truth (correspondence), and to suggest it does commits the ought-is (82) fallacy (see Objection 3 in Appendix E) [reversed is-ought (12), see point seven].
4. Open to revision. The critical realist, rather than retreating to skepticism or anti-realism, leaves answers/theories open to future revision, while knowing [not with absolute certainty (89), and so with varying degrees of subjective certainty (91), which is faith, defined in point five (see Objection 5 in Appendix E if the lack of certainty sounds heretical to you)] we are at least on the right track and making “real” progress (phlogiston being replaced with oxygen-based combustion, etcetera).
5. Certainty and faith. Absolute subjective certainty is belief that is completely proven to correspond (to be objectively certain) and has no room for doubt so that faith is not required (89). The more absolute certainty is lacking, the more faith (lower levels of subjective certainty) is required. Faith in this context is belief, trust in the evidence, that lacks absolute subjective certainty (in other contexts, it involves interpersonal trust). Faith that lacks justification altogether is blind faith, trust persisting even when there is a complete lack of evidence (or, as Richard Dawkins would say, “in the teeth of evidence,” meaning counter-evidence), and is to be avoided (lest ye be drinking the kool-aid) (see Objection 5 in Appendix E if the lack of certainty sounds heretical to you). Both certainty and faith are stronger when the evidence is stronger, when the answer/theory is more strongly justified (80). One answer which is no longer even considered theory by many scientists (including the Christian head of the Human Genome Project and director of NIH, Dr. Francis Collins) (86), due to the fact that there is so much evidence for it: evolution by natural selection. Still, as mentioned in point 3, justification (evidence/reasons), while providing strong support which may seem to approach certainty (89)—does not guarantee truth. That is not a statement against evolution or any other well-supported answer! However, consider that Kant treated Euclidean geometry and Newtonian physics as a priori. This is only an argument against apodictic (absolute) certainty for finite knowers, who will only have varying degrees of subjective certainty (91), which is faith, and which depends on the strength of the evidence/reasons (89). Faith is the reason for scientific progress, as opposed to already knowing everything with absolute subjective certainty (omniscience). (See Objection 4 in Appendix E.)
6. Knowledge (“knowing”) is justified, true belief (81, from Plato’s “Theaetetus”). When our belief is not both justified (point two) and true (point one), we can be 1) right for the wrong (or no) reasons (if you want to learn more about this, google for Gettier problem examples), or 2) wrong despite having good reasons (because we do not have all the relevant reasons, which would have changed our belief). In the first case, our belief is true, but it is not justified (see point seven). In the second case, our belief is justified, but it is not true (see point three). So, knowledge is when belief is both justified and true—when we are right for all the right reasons. Again, this rightness is not dependent on our knowing, on our having all the right reasons (see point three). For finite beings who lack absolute certainty (89), knowing always involves varying degrees of subjective certainty (91), which is faith (see Objection 5 in Appendix E if the lack of certainty sounds heretical to you). If later you find out you were wrong [that your belief did not correspond, or that you were right for the wrong, or no, reasons], then you were not “knowing” in the first place. You only thought you were. But, now you ‘are’ knowing. You are knowing why you were wrong! If you’re still on the verge of collapsing into skepticism, reread points three through five. [ There is an intuitive type of knowing which does not necessarily involve belief, like when spiders know webs, birds know nests, and humans have 'the hunger' of point 12. However, the sort of knowing which involves reason, requires belief. See note 79 for a recent paper on knowing that P, without believing that P by Blake Myers-Schulz and Eric Schwitzgebel. ]
7. Truth=/=justification. Is=/=ought. (General truth.) In point six, we saw that we can be right for the wrong (or no) reasons, that we can have a true belief which is not justified. It would be logically fallacious to say that a belief is justified merely because it corresponds to something in reality. Again, if you want to learn more about this, google for Gettier problem examples. This is also Hume’s is-ought (12) fallacy (see Objection 2 in Appendix E), however, it fuelled his skepticism, so—reread points three through five.
8. Truth=/=justification. Is=/=ought. (Moral truth.) Point seven, Hume’s is-ought (12) fallacy (see Objection 2 in Appendix E), also (and originally!) applies in the case of moral truth. It would be logically fallacious to say that a belief about moral truth is justified merely because it corresponds to something in reality. It is logically fallacious to say that “might makes right” is justified (answers the question of Ethics, 83, and see point two) merely because (say) might always wins in reality. It is logically fallacious to say that the Golden Rule (in essence, treat the Other as self) is justified merely because it corresponds to a being who is always a loving being who always treats the Other as self.
9. Justification=/=truth. Ought=/=is. (Moral truth.) Point three, the ought-is (82), or reverse is-ought (12), fallacy, also applies in the case of moral truth. In point six, we saw that we can be wrong despite having good reasons, when we do not have ‘all’ the relevant reasons (which would have changed our belief)—we can have justified belief that is not true. It would be logically fallacious to say that a belief about moral truth is true (see point one), merely because it is justified (answers the question of Ethics, 83, and see point two). It is logically fallacious to say that because the Golden Rule is justified, it is true to a being whose very existence and every behavior is described by it. (See Objection 3 in Appendix E.)
10. Fallacy of reification. In sum of points six through nine, any belief that is not both justified and true, but is either only justified (ought-is, 82) or true (is-ought, 12), commits the fallacy of reification (70) (see Objection 2 and Objection 3 in Appendix E), in that it believes to be true or justificatory something that is not true or justificatory. It, in essence, invents reality.
11. All is not lost. Even if one is not a sceptic about knowing in general, points 8 through 10 might lead one to be a sceptic or nihilist about moral truth, believing that we cannot know moral truth, or that it is a matter of opinion and there is no moral truth to be known. Reread points three through five. Point six says that knowledge (“knowing”) is justified, true belief. That also applies to beliefs about moral truth. In order to count as knowing, a belief about moral truth must be justified and true, it must answer the question of Ethics (83) (see point two), and correspond to reality (see point one).
12. Hunger. We all behave as if our moral conduct is truly justified, or apologize or make excuses for it if it isn’t, and the Golden Rule is found in the creeds of every major culture throughout history (9 and 10) (see Objection 12 in Appendix E). All with a hunger (57) for truly justified meaning, hunger for the answer to “How and why should we be or behave with the Other and self?” We hunger for meaning that exists, or we would not have evolved a hunger for it, just as physical hunger would not have evolved, had there been no nutrients already in existence to satisfy it. [ As mentioned in point 6, there is an intuitive type of knowing which does not necessarily involve belief, like when spiders know webs, birds know nests, and humans have 'the hunger'. However, the sort of knowing which involves reason, requires belief. See note 79 for a recent paper on knowing that P, without believing that P by Blake Myers-Schulz and Eric Schwitzgebel. ]
13. L1.1. How and why. The Golden Rule recognizes that a ‘how’ (conduct theories) without a ‘why’ (consequence theories) is pointless; that a ‘why’ (end) without a ‘how’ (do) is impossible to apply—the Golden Rule is both ‘why’ (love—see Objection 16 in Appendix E) and how (treat the Other as self) (see Appendix G and Objection 9 in Appendix E).
14. L1.2. Be or behave. The Golden Rule sees that the nature of the ‘doing’ (conduct theories) affects the nature of the ‘being’ (virtue theories) and vice versa—the Golden Rule is both what we should do (treat the Other as self), and how we should be (loving). See Appendix G.
15. L1.3. Other and self. The Golden Rule acknowledges self as Other and Other as self, and so rules out self-abusive theories as well as Other-abusive egoism and group egoism (game theory, 78, and see Appendix G and Objection 14 in Appendix E).
16. Justified. The Golden Rule is the only theory in Ethics which sufficiently answers the question of Ethics (83) (see point two), “How and why should we be or behave with the Other and self?” It is the only “justified” theory in Ethics (see Appendix G). In order to be always true (not just “justified”), it must correspond to a being who always is and does what we should be and do—Golden Rule love—treat the Other as self (see point one).
17. Faith. That the Golden Rule is justified, does not guarantee it corresponds to such a being (see point three). Justified=/=true. (Leaving out discussion of theistic voluntarism.) This means that if the only justified theory in Ethics, the Golden Rule, does not correspond, then there is no moral truth. We can either trust (point 5) points twelve through sixteen, or we can defy our hunger (57), defy that upon which all creeds of every major culture in history agree (9 and 10) (see Objection 12 in Appendix E), and trust (point 5) that there is no moral truth. Only one option is true—all else is a construct, a fallacious reification (see point ten), including the beliefs of those like Sam Harris who embrace the possibility of justified beliefs about moral truth, while denying the existence of a being to which those beliefs must correspond in order to be properly “true”. The logic of this, and also points twelve through sixteen, point towards putting faith (see point five) in the Golden Rule and the God it describes. (See Objection 4 in Appendix E.)

The Sword and the Sacrifice Philosophy (20) answers the great question of ethics, “How and why should we be or behave with the Other and self?” (L1) by emphasizing that the perfect end (consequences) of both being (character) and doing (conduct), is Golden Rule love (treat Other as self) that endures all circumstances. This love is not mere emotion (see Objection 16 in Appendix E), is intentional and rational and can be chosen in the absence of emotion. The fulfillment and happiness it brings transcends and orders our changing emotions. It is not subjective, but also is not divorced from the real experiences of real people.

Laws governing social interaction are relative to socially interacting beings, the way laws of physics are relative to the physical universe. If those laws cease to be, physical and social existence ceases to be, and vice versa. One doesn’t need to be struck by a divine lightning bolt to discover this—merely observe broken homes, dangerous neighborhoods, and prison populations—is there really no need for a Savior? Another similarity is that we know moral absolutes like we know the force holding us to the earth, though it is possible to increase our awareness of both by reading God’s revealed Word and a specialized science textbook, respectively. Right away we notice a difference between physical laws and moral laws. Though you can attempt to violate neither without consequence (46)—you can actually violate moral laws. They do not describe how humans “do” always behave. They do not describe nature. They go beyond nature (69). Whereas the formula for photosynthesis does not include choice, the formula for Golden Rule love requires it. Nature merely hosts the fact of and capability for morality—it cannot prescribe social existence or condemn social disintegration. Oughts are supernatural, either created by man (like all technology) or reflecting (71) God's nature (Golden Rule love), “How and why we should be or behave with the Other and self.” See Objection 17 in Appendix E.

Earlier in the paper it was shown how the impulse of relativism simply misapplies the Golden Rule, which is a more basic and essential aspect of each theory (see Objection 12 in Appendix E, and the Moral Diversity dialectic). Bentham and Mill grounded their universalized happiness principle in our shared need for happiness, whereas Kant grounded his categorical imperative in fairness to everyone’s shared moral sense (see the Love and Logic, “Law was Made for Man” Dialectic). Sartre said we choose our own purpose and grounded this in our shared freedom, whereas Aristotle thought every man’s virtue is built in to reality (see the Existential Essentialism Dialectic, and Appendix F). They were all at least partly right—we are all free and responsible to choose the best purpose (God’s essential Golden Rule love), we all need to be happy (to love and be loved, despite the circumstances), we all share (65; Objection 19 in Appendix E) a moral sense (of love, not merely double-standard and undermined intention), and the highest virtue (love) is the ‘final cause,’ the meaning of life beyond the beginning—treat the Other as self (Golden Rule). See Appendix G.

If Golden Rule love is the virtue which defines all other virtues (the highest purpose), then essentially good reality must be a personal being who is complete Golden Rule love. That being, God, provides the natural universe as the medium from which he forms us, like clay in the Potter’s hands, and in us the ability to discern and participate in the supernatural universe: Golden Rule love (himself). With that discernment we seek answers to “Why are we here?” and “What is the meaning of life?” and “What is the most important goal?”—never finding the answers apart from the Source. We ask those questions because he made us to love, like he made migratory animals to know the way home, like he made spiders to know how to spin geometrical webs, like he made birds to know how to design nests (71). With that discernment we decide whether or not certain God concepts are good or inadequate. The sheep know My voice.

With that discernment this paper has been affectionately titled “The Sword and the Sacrifice Philosophy,” after the author’s friend Wolfgang Carstens’ “The Knife and the Wound Philosophy,” (KWP). The titles are similar because, as Carstens recognizes, “The Knife and the Wound Philosophy is theoretically no different from the Golden Rule,” (20). If one removes the subjectivist, consequentialist, deterministic inconsistencies from his philosophy, the similarity between the Golden Rule (treat the Other as you want to be treated) and Carstens’ KWP is seen when he writes, “the man must become the recipient of his own action,” and “you are your neighbor” (20). His KWP is stated, “In determining the value of one’s action, one should imagine oneself as the one that acts and as the one that is acted upon in the context in which the action applies,” (20). As mentioned earlier—that self is like the Other and the Other like self, is the genius of the Golden Rule, and of Carstens’ KWP. It captures empathic love, including the principle of universality, that what is good/right (or bad/wrong) for self is also good/right (or bad/wrong) for the Other. But, what is most to be admired in Carstens’ KWP is his poetic use of “knife” and “wound” to refer to actor and recipient, respectively. His poetry is here adopted and only changed a bit, using “sword” and “sacrifice” to refer to actor and recipient (sword because of Hebrews 4:12; sacrifice because of Hebrews 10:10). What Carstens’ KWP lacks is motivation, provided by God’s unmerited Golden Rule love for us properly demonstrated (see Objection 1 in Appendix E) in Jesus’ (sword) taking the lead and switching perspectives with us and dying in our place (becoming sacrifice), fulfilling and foreshadowed by the Old Testament sacrificial system (and prophecies). Carstens argues the Golden Rule (and, by extension he does not extend, his KWP) lacks definite context (see Objection 18 in Appendix E). The reason for this is because it is applicable in every context of human interaction (see also the section below titled “Moral Conflicts: Contextual Absolutism: The Greater Good View”). That it lacks definite context is why God bothered to be specific, and why it is so important to educate ourselves and our children in those revealed specifics of the ‘basics’ we with moral sense know intuitively.

‘Basic’ally, the divine requirement we start with is also our ultimate fulfillment and happiness: Golden Rule love. Happiness is valued but never understood in other ethical theories, and is considered important in this paper. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” (John 10:10). The question of happiness is one of what really matters, and that we experience a loving relationship with God and each Other is what really matters (6). Happiness—a better word for it might be “blessedness”—is not “an emotion often dependent on outward circumstances,” (7) (see Objection 16 in Appendix E) and it “refers to ultimate well-being and distinctive spiritual joy,” (7). Another way to describe the state of happiness or blessedness is as the peace of God—“not merely a psychological state of mind, but an inner tranquility based on peace with God” (8). Some say there is no quick fix toward happiness, but those who let God in know that this happiness is granted irreversibly in a defining moment, whereas good choices, rather than being a path to happiness, are the output of God through a person who is already at peace with him. True happiness is not earned by good acts, but is God’s gift accepted by faith. Concepts labeled happiness rooted in the temporal can be diminished by the trials and hardships of this life. Experiencing the not always rewarding feeling produced by Golden Rule choices is not the same as the spiritual joy, the inner tranquility, the well-being of intimacy with God and his absolute acceptance which motivates those choices even in the midst of adversity.

On Wikipedia, the Golden Rule is (or was) presented as an ethic of reciprocity (10), distinguishable from deontological (conduct, ‘do’) and consequentialist (‘end’) ethical theories. Because this can be misleading, it must be pointed out that the Golden Rule is not a socially contracted bartering of “tit for tat”—it does not follow the rules of game theory (78, and see Objection 14 in Appendix E). It is rational empathy (51), it is love. That is what made it possible for Jesus to say, “Love your enemy,” and put the onus of “neighborliness” on the one acting (parable of the Good Samaritan). One can smell the scents of the poetic Garden of Eden just thinking about it. “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets,” (Jesus, Matthew 7:12). Other ways to say it are “do as you would be done by” (18; 82), treat the Other as you would have them threat you, or treat Other as self.

The Golden Rule (treat the Other how you would want to be treated) includes the Platinum Rule (treat the Other how they would want to be treated), considering we would want the Other to put themselves in our shoes in their interactions with us (however, we would not in the process adopt someone’s values which conflict with God’s values) (56). Recall:

The Platinum-Golden Dialectic

Thesis: Give the Other what they want (over-simple Platinum Rule).
Antithesis: Give the Other what you want (over-simple Golden Rule).
Synthesis: Give the Other what a self in its right mind would want (essence of the Golden Rule, which includes the Platinum Rule).

If correctly applied, one will reach the same conclusion, whatever version of the Golden Rule one uses, be it the Platinum Rule, or the negative form (Silver Rule) referred to in the section on Relativism, because (in the case of the negative form) Sartre was right when he pointed out that even the choice to do nothing is still an act. Notice that if we “do no harm” it is less ‘active’ than doing good (at first glance)—however—consider that ‘not’ doing good, could be considered ‘doing harm’ (so that “doing no harm” would involve actively “doing good”) (62). Recall:

The Silver-Golden Dialectic

Thesis: To avoid doing to the Other what you would not want done to you (to do the Silver Rule) is to not do anything at all.
Antithesis: To avoid doing to the Other what you would have them to do you (to avoid doing the Golden Rule—to do nothing) is to actively do to the Other what you would not want done to you (to break the Silver Rule, in bad faith, as Sartre would say—to refuse to choose, to do nothing, is a choice).
Synthesis: To avoid doing the Golden Rule (to do nothing) is to do harm, so in order to avoid doing to the Other what you would not want done to you (to do the Silver Rule) you must actively do the Golden Rule.

To avoid treating the Other how you would not want them to treat you (silver version of Golden Rule), you must actively treat them as you would have them treat you (gold version)—this includes putting yourself in their shoes, as you would want the Other to do the same for you (platinum version) (see Objection 15 in Appendix E). See Appendix G. When Jesus sacrificed himself for us on the cross, he avoided letting our sin get between us and him (Silver Rule), by actively taking it upon himself (Platinum Rule)—all of that fulfilling the Golden Rule, because when we treat the Other the same way, it is the same as treating him that way (Matthew 25:35-40). He was treating us how he wants us to treat him—how he wants us to treat the Other: full of his grace and truth.

The Golden Rule is the basis for a right motivation for confronting the Other, including through “just war”. How would you (or you and your friends) want to be treated if you shut out your conscience(s) and were in the process of unjustly killing someone or many people (quickly, or slowly, through robbing them of resources) and only death could stop you? Would you—the you before shutting out your conscience—not thank the one who saves you from killing? Would you not pity and be angry with the bystander who did nothing?

How would you (or you and your friends) want to be treated if you were in the process of being unjustly killed (quickly, or slowly, through being robbed of resources) and only death could stop your murderer(s)? Would you not thank the one who saves you from being killed, and saves your murderer from killing you unjustly? Would you not pity and be angry with the bystander who did nothing?

Would you, if you chose to remain an inactive bystander and allow people to murder and be murdered, not yourself die in a different way, and allow a different kind of death in the hearts of the murderer and all survivors?

To cease existing would be better than that living hell.

To worship God (Matthew 25:35-46) is to “love your neighbor as yourself”—that is his royal law. James 2:8 NASB note: “The law of love (Lev. 19:18) is called ‘royal’ because it is the supreme law that is the source of all other laws governing human relationships. It is the summation of all such laws (Matt 5:43-48; 22:36-40; Rom 13:8-10, Gal. 5:14)]. In Matt. 22:39, Mark 12:31 and Luke 10:27, Jesus combines the Shema (Deut. 6:5) with the royal law ‘to show that love for neighbor is a natural and logical outgrowth of love for God,’” (NASB note). When we make a moral choice in line with God’s universal moral laws, such choices are just instances of Golden Rule love, and virtue is just a pattern of loving intention; the standard or end (the how and why) for both conduct and character is simply Golden Rule love.

Here’s where he gets specific. Jesus loves (conducts) through us according to the Golden Rule, or the royal law of love, fleshed out in the Ten Commandments (do not worship other gods, do not make any idols, do not misuse the name of God, keep the Sabbath holy, honor your father and mother, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie, do not covet), and other guiding principles found in his Word, all a call to Golden Rule love.

Attempt to rewrite the following in Golden Mean style (dialectic of extreme vice, vice of deficiency, and virtue) (58, 66)—

The character He molds us into is a loving one of humility (rather than pride, or setting ourselves up where God, Golden Rule love, belongs; all sins are a type of pride and idolatry, of finding our identity in something besides his eternal love, and setting that up in his place), liberality (rather than greed), brotherly love (rather than envy), meekness (rather than wrath), chastity (rather than lust), diligence (rather than sloth), prudence (distinguishing between what hinders love and what helps further it, rather than, perhaps, lack of discernment), temperance (or restraint, rather than gluttony), justice (ensuring every self’s basic needs are met and rights defended, rather than unfairness), fortitude (or courage to love in even the worst circumstances, rather than cowardliness), faith (assurance of promises we hope for, but do not yet see fulfilled; confidence in the evidence behind the promise, rather than doubting the promise despite the evidence; loyalty and trust rather than disloyalty and distrust), hope [a longing for a heaven, the kingdom of God, which fulfills what this life only arouses, rather than settling for mud pies in the slum (16)] and charity (or unmerited love, rather than putting conditions on love and all its expressions). God’s nature, love, defines all the other virtues, which are just different expressions of love.

We can also refer to more descriptions of Golden Rule love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8b, 13 says “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; …But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love,”) and Galatians 5:22 says these are the fruits of the Spirit: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law,” but see Objection 24 in Appendix E.

One might compare developing virtue to developing one’s athletic ability (1 Cor. 9:24-27; Heb. 12:1-13). One doesn’t become a great athlete after winning one race. Every loving choice we make (conduct), every race we win, contributes to our becoming virtuous (character), to our becoming a great athlete. Golden Rule love is a race that cannot be won in isolation from God. And it doesn’t matter (in a negative way) if someone can run circles around us, because all it means is they will surround us with Golden Rule love. Have you noticed that, if we are honest with ourselves, the sins, or vices (a breaking away from the Synthesis mentioned in the Greek Virtue Theory section), always weigh down or deaden our conscience (moral sense), whereas, with the virtues, the spiritual load is much lighter? God’s Golden Rule love forming us into his image, the original point, is nothing if not spiritual aerodynamics. And all that talk of whether it is more morally praiseworthy to like doing good, or to do good against inclination, is answered by finding out what God has to say about it in Luke 15:1-10: “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance,” (Jesus). God answers the question with “You’re missing the point. I love you. Deal with it.” It isn’t about being morally praiseworthy or superior—perfect Golden Rule love is about loving unconditionally.

The Bible is the only record of a belief in a God of pure love, who forgives everyone and allows those who reject his Golden Rule love for them, to choose hell (defined earlier) (see Objection 24 in Appendix E). Jesus is unique from every founder of a religion. “Jesus did not only teach or expound his message. He was identical with his message. ‘In him,’ say the Scriptures, ‘dwelt the fullness of the Godhead bodily.’ He did not just proclaim the truth. He said, ‘I am the truth.’ He did not just show the way. He said, ‘I am the Way.’ He did not just open up vistas. He said, ‘I am the door.’ ‘I am the Good Shepherd.’ ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ ‘I am the I AM,’” (3).

Perhaps all the virtues or descriptions of Golden Rule love or how to practice it don’t sit well with you. If so, “For the sake of argument, let’s imagine that Christianity is not the product of any one culture but is actually the transcultural truth of God. If that were the case we would expect that it would contradict and offend every human culture at some point, because human cultures are ever-changing and imperfect. If Christianity were the truth it would have to be offending and correcting your thinking at some place. …Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage!) will you know that you have gotten hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination,” (2; 72-73, 114). Jacob became known as Israel when God wrestled with him. Saul became Paul when Jesus blinded him with his light and gave him new direction. The author of this paper was an atheist until God sifted her and refined her and lifted her from the mud (33), and is confident that if that is where you are—that is where you will find him pursuing you.

One criticism of Christianity in general is that there are so many hypocrites who don’t conduct or model their lives according to Christ’s example, either through resembling the world or resembling the legalistic Pharisees. The argument is that Christianity doesn’t work. If it did, every last Christian would be the spitting image of Christ. But only God is ever going to be perfectly good. Christianity is not about being morally superior—it is about an intimate, authentic relationship with our Creator. That we do not become perfect the instant we become a Christian, perfect in the sense of being able to overcome every single temptation in a single bound, points to the fact that we are not and never will be self-sufficient and that the point is God’s unmerited Golden Rule love, holding fast to an intimate loving relationship with God from which nothing can separate us—it is He who cleans the slate and is the author and perfector of our faith. C.S. Lewis writes, “If what you want is an argument against Christianity … you can easily find some stupid and unsatisfactory Christian and say … ‘So there’s your boasted new man! Give me the old kind.’ But if once you have begun to see that Christianity is on other grounds probable, you will know in your heart that this is only evading the issue. What can you ever really know of other people’s souls—of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know, and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with him,” (18; 168).

We still have one more thing to settle: What if there is a conflict between two or more divine commands (fleshed-out Golden Rule)?

Moral Conflicts: Contextual Absolutism: The Greater Good View

By way of dialectic (58, 66), we are going to resolve two conflicting views on moral conflict resolution:

The Greater Good Dialectic

Thesis: The third-alternative view.
Antithesis: The lesser-evil view.
Synthesis: Contextual (or graded) absolutism, or the Greater Good View [(1), with some adaptations].

Thesis: The third-alternative view.

Some say there is always a third-alternative in an ‘apparent’ moral dilemma [‘apparent’ because by this view there are no ‘real’ dilemmas—if there were, it would mean we are inconsistently obligated to opposites, whereas “ought implies can” (see note 84 and Objection 24 in Appendix E)], that one should never sin to keep from sinning (the ‘lesser evil view’ explained below), and Christians who hold this view believe that God will always deliver the faithful from a moral dilemma by providing a "third alternative," (one or more alternatives) unless we put ourselves in the dilemma by first sinning. That view is called the “third alternative” view.

It is inconsistent to say we can sin our way into moral dilemmas, but that there are no real moral dilemmas. It is also inconsistent to need a third alternative (not that one really ‘is’ needed), unless one acknowledges there is a ‘real’ dilemma to solve. Additionally, real moral dilemmas exist with no third alternative, like “Should the doctor save the mother or baby?” Christians who hold this view think Jesus was never in any real moral dilemma, that there was always a third alternative, but this is false, as he was in a dilemma when he chose not to defend himself at his trial (Lev. 5:1) (as well as other dilemmas)—and he didn’t sin his way into ‘any’ of the real dilemmas with which he was faced.

Sometimes the third-alternative view says that one of the two alternatives in the ‘apparent’ dilemma is better than the other, like telling the truth instead of lying to save a life. However, if we tell the truth rather than lying to save a life (as Kant suggested), we are placing the lower law over the higher. This is not just a misapplication of the Greater Good View because it does not acknowledge the ‘real’ dilemma in not being able to choose ‘both’ the lower and the higher—this view considers the lower and the higher to be on the same level.

God could not be considered good if he held us responsible for what is unavoidable when we choose the higher law because we cannot at the same time choose the lower one. That would be a type of Pharisaical legalism (Mark 2:27). [The objection that if there is a real dilemma, then we are obligated to opposites, is not answered until the Greater Good View.] So the third-alternative view is inadequate.

Antithesis: The lesser-evil view.

Others espouse the lesser-evil view and say there are in fact real moral dilemmas (not just apparent ones), that we do not necessarily sin our way into them, but we must unavoidably sin our way out of them and do the lesser evil (like lie to save a life, rather than tell the truth to a murderer).

If there is ever a time when we “ought” to do something but we cannot do it (instead, we must sin against it)—then “ought implies cannot” (given we know we ought to do it) (see note 84 and Objection 24 in Appendix E), which is unreasonable.

Additionally, this view neglects to answer the objection that if there are ‘real’ dilemmas, then we are obligated to opposites. The lesser-evil view makes it a moral duty to sin in conflict situations, but Golden Rule love (our moral duty) and sin are like oil and water—they don’t mix.

Christians who hold this view suggest Jesus, who is perfect, never had to sin his way out of a moral dilemma because he was never faced with one and/or was delivered from them due to his faithfulness (which reduces to the third-alternative view). However, Christ did deal with moral dilemmas without having to sin his way out of them, which had no third alternative.

When one is determining which of two evils is the lesser one (or which of two goods is greater), one is either resorting to utilitarianism (inadequate) or the Greater Good View (which considers Golden Rule love to be ‘the ultimate end’ in what to do and how to be). So the lesser-evil view is inadequate.

Synthesis: The Greater Good View.

The Greater Good View acknowledges real moral conflicts, that we don’t always sin our way in to them and never have to sin our way out, that our duty is to the higher law, and Christians who hold this view note that a good God does not consider it sin when we cannot choose the lower and the higher simultaneously.

So we are justified, we are doing the Greater Good, we are not sinning the lesser evil, when we follow the higher law and save a victim’s life rather than breaking it (sinning) by following the lower law in telling the truth to his or her would-be murderer. The higher law over-rules the lower one that is still binding (which is why one finds oneself in an ethical bind).

Some argue that this is a kind of situationism, but “the situation is not used to determine what is right, but only to discover which” (1; 425) of the absolute rules applies, so as to select the greater good from among them. For example, telling the truth is a lesser good than saving a life, which is a greater good—this reality is true regardless the situation, but can only be applied in a situation wherein we could either tell the truth or save a life.

To the objection that if there are real conflicts, then we are inconsistently obligated to opposites, this view answers that “greater” goods and “lesser” goods are not opposites, and do not in themselves conflict with eachother (the dilemma is only that we cannot do them both simultaneously). Consider Newton’s first law of motion, the law of inertia that says that an object will maintain its speed and course unless some outside force acts upon it. When an object follows Newton’s third law of motion, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”—it does not break the law of inertia. So it is when we cannot obey the lower law because we must obey the higher law—it does not break the lower law.

The Bible has many examples of God approving rather than condemning instances when people acknowledged the higher over the lower, like when God blessed and gave families to the Hebrew midwives who “disobeyed government and lied to the king (Exodus 1:19) in order to save the male babies,” (1; 417).

Note that “Jesus spoke of ‘greater sin’ (John 19:11), ‘greater love’ (John 15:13), ‘greatest commandment’ (Matt 5:19), and ‘weightier matters’ of the law (Matt. 23:23),” (1; 424).

No third alternative is required, and we do not need to sin our way out of a real dilemma between the command against killing and killing in self defense (Exodus 22:2), capital punishment (Gen. 9:6), and in a just war against aggression (Gen. 14) (1; 418)—all which are permitted greater goods.

This isn’t to say that God’s commands and permissions “make” greater goods to be greater—that would be divine voluntarism (70). It is just to say that God’s commands and permissions both reflect and reveal the reality that there are greater goods—the reality available to be discovered (71) by our rationally intuitive conscience. That’s how it was done long before the Bible was widely available—even by the prophets—and it’s how it will be done even if all Bibles disappear. Still, if you get a letter from your lover, you read it, even though you already know how they feel about you. And how many of us really know how God feels about us?


The moral law of Golden Rule love is known with intuitive hunger (57) and discovered (71) using reason. God also reveals or communicates the Golden Rule in various ways, most ultimately on the cross in Jesus’ taking the lead and switching perspectives with us, dying in our place, first fruits of the resurrection, for love without demonstration is not love (see Objection 1 in Appendix E). When we choose him, we are co-creators of the Kingdom of Heaven, whose narrow paths are paved with the example of his Golden Rule love. May we allow his example to ripple through us to the ends of the earth and our resurrection.

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